Green thumb runs in her family
Jennfer Staub Myers’ grandfather was John Franz Staub, a Houston architect who made his mark by introducing the country house form to that city’s River Oaks area. He designed Bayou Bend, now a museum, and his clients included the Hoggs, Cullens, Mastersons and other uppercrust Texas families.
Yet he never talked about architecture around his granddaughter.
“He was really strict,” she recalls. “My grandparents were lovely, though stabilizing influences.”
She and her siblings stayed with their Staub grandparents in the Hill Country each summer while their father, Jack Staub, tromped around Mexico looking for plants and music.
“I got all those genes,” says Jennifer Myers, who in addition to being a nurse is a floral designer who studied art. “He was a physician and naturalist. If you met him, you’d never know he was a general surgeon. He was the plants man.”
Her mother, Alice York Staub, was a Spanish teacher who became a landscape designer after her husband died.
Slender and browned by the sun, Jennifer Myers grew up in an old farmhouse in the Memorial/ Spring Branch area. After the family moved there in 1953, their menagerie grew to include goats, chickens, alligators, birds, snakes, a bobcat and a lot of dogs. She played in the woods, built forts, and collected rocks, plants and feathers.
Biology and art were her strong suits. When she graduated from the University of Texas art department, her father advised her to enroll in nursing school so she could support herself.
These days, she spends more time building Jennifer’s Gardens, a floral business that employs her own fanciful plants. Her designs often include variegated foliage, jasmine, white coral vine, bleeding heart vine, clematis vine and assorted rare plants from her mother’s garden as well as mosses, grasses and palms, some collected on hiking trips.
She sees all kinds of predictors of a gardening life in her family tree. She claims famed botanist and explorer Andre Michaux among her ancestors. She once visited the Jardin des Plants in France and viewed his original drawings of North American trees. A distant cousin, Frank Galyon, hybridized magnolias, including a rare red magnolia.
“We bought six red magnolias and only one survived,” she says. “I’m always willing to try things.”
What about her husband?
Fred Myers grew up in Austin and met his future wife while doing her taxes. He likes organizing the hardscapes in the garden, especially the rock work. He was not sold on the dilapidated house in 1991.
“When I saw how excited she was, I thought: ‘What am I going to do?’ ” he says. “Get in the way of this?”
The place was definitely a diamond in the rough — four tall rooms that needed a new kitchen and just about everything else. The Myers family, however, is resourceful.
The terraces facing the creek — which flooded up to the doorsteps until they put in French drains — served as an informal midden for former residents. It invited excavation, as did a landfill, which was not directly associated with the slaughterhouse that once rose where Bailey Park is now.
“It’s a rock box,” Jennifer Myers says of the house. “But the walls are 18 inches thick.”
Once they had secured the land and begun to transform the house, the couple decided to plan a garden.
“We had four designs,” Jennifer Myers says. “We picked the simplest one.”
They turned to the Natural Gardener as a source for compost. Agaves and natives do well here. But they also inherited her father’s palm collection.
“We lost half of it,” Jennifer Myers says. “That was before we got the greenhouse.”
“She just puts stuff in,” Fred Myers says. “Some of it works; some of it doesn’t.”
They planted eucalyptus trees, Australian natives that flourish in California, often to the detriment of the existing flora and fauna.
“They thrived for three mild winters,” Jennifer Myers says. “Then we lost all of them. The upper limbs just froze.”
Visitors are as fascinated by the pieces of architectural past that emerge from the greenery as by the plants.
A set of Gothic windows came from a train station in Chattanooga, Tenn.
A cupola was saved from the Savoy Hotel in Panama City, Panama.
“When the Savoy was razed in the 1940s, the ambassador to Panama took it to his home in Houston, which was a John Staub house” Fred Myers says.
“When that house was being torn down in 1995, the owners knew of Jennifer’s connection and offered it to her,” he said. “We loaded it in the trailer and brought it home.
“Years later, I was working in the front yard and a lady identified herself as the granddaughter of the ambassador,” he said. “She recognized the cupola and told me the story.”
The nearby hike-andbike trail along Shoal Creek and the shady lanes around St. Andrew’s Episcopal School bring plenty of strangers in contact with the fantastical Myers garden.
“You can’t work in the yard without people wanting to stop and talk about the garden,” Fred Myers says. “So many people have entered our lives that way and stayed.”
The front door of Jennifer Myers’ 140-year-old stone house is surrounded by a dramatic garden.
Contact Michael Barnes at 445-3970 or mbarnes@ statesman.com. Twitter: @ outandabout.
A small iron bed sits on a raised brick floor under a canopy of trees.
A mask hangs on the rusty metal gate that leads into Jennifer Myers’ garden.
A plant and a stone column create a rustic focal point in a corner of the garden.